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Super Mario Bros. Wonder review: one of the most joyous games I've ever played

Super Mario Bros. Wonder review: one of the most joyous games I've ever played

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is fun in its purest form, a joyous adventure to play with friends, family or solo and still have the best time

Nintendo has always been a champion of making games that put a smile on our faces, and continue to push the boundaries of creativity and fun. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is no exception, in fact, I'd call it Nintendo's best work in years.

The plot is pretty simple, Bowser is up to no good again, but he's put a pause on his princess kidnappings and set his sights on a bigger prize, the castle of Prince Florian, a cute caterpillar dude who joins you on your quest. Bowser, using magic from the Wonder Flowers, has merged himself with the castle, and is using its power to take over the Flower Kingdom by stealing as many Wonder Flowers as possible.

Take a look at Super Mario Bros. Wonder below

It's up to Mario and his friends to put a stop to the scheme, and just like that, you're playing.

Luckily, Mario has more allies than ever, as there are a whopping 12 playable characters. You've got Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy (who's new to the 2D games), two Toads, Toadette, four Yoshis and one Nabbit. Yoshi and Nabbit are "easy mode" characters who can't power up but take no damage.

While I mostly stuck to my favourite, Luigi, I did switch it up on occasion, mainly to see what all the characters looked like with the various power-ups. The Elephant characters have given me nightmares ever since.

Before we get into the gameplay itself, first I have to talk about style, because this game has it in spades. Previous 2D Mario games have shared the same artstyle and aesthetic since New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. While it was fun and cute when the 2D style first came back, it quickly grew tedious, with each New Super Mario Bros. game being basically indistinguishable from each other, aside from powerup selection and sometimes the plot.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder throws out the formula and completely overhauls its visuals and sound, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy and all the other characters have never been so expressive, always looking like they’re having the time of their lives while I was doing the same.

Who could blame them too? When the world they're exploring is so jaw-droppingly beautiful. The level design takes on a life of its own, with every environment being colourful, vibrant, and always visually distinct from each other. Every level feels like its own adventure, and there's an excellent amount of variation in terms of themes, biomes and level gimmicks that keep the whole experience feeling fresh and exciting.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder-

It's clear Nintendo had a lot of fun designing some of these levels, with one of my personal favourites being a special stage that had me precisely wall jump off blocks that appeared and disappeared to a funky beat playing in the background. You could say it's…wonderful.

As the name implies, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is themed around weird and wonderful things. The levels themselves have enough wonder to them already, but things get absolutely wild when you pick up a Wonder Flower, a new item that completely changes the way a level is played.

There's basically one in every level, and while some are definitely more exciting than others, all of them are special and memorable in their own way. One could switch up the point of view to a top-down perspective, one could cause a giant snowball to obliterate the entire level, and some could cause a herd of Piranha Plants to burst into a full-on song and dance routine.

While most were brief, they were absolutely nuts, and are basically guaranteed to put a big, silly grin on your face the entire time. These were definitely the highlight of the game for me, and again you could just tell Nintendo were having a lot of fun coming up with ideas for Wonder effects.

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Even the boss fights include them, like the first encounter with Bowser Jr., who uses the power to shrink and enlarge himself/you during the fight.

While the Wonder Flower encounters mostly made the levels unhinged purely for aesthetic/enjoyment reasons, others actually added a bit of a challenge, and that's coincidentally another thing I liked about the game, it was challenging.

As I said earlier, the New Super Mario Bros. games bordered on tedium most of the time, with most levels practically playing themselves until you got to the last few worlds.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder ramps up the challenge, without making it overbearing or mandatory for progression. You can see this in the level selection, as instead of going from one level to the next in a straight line, you can run around a 3D map and pick the courses you want, in any order you want. Nintendo has done this already with Super Mario 3D World, and I'm thrilled it's been brought back for a 2D game.

Before selecting a level, there'll be a star indicator denoting how challenging the level will be. Levels are ranked from one to five stars, with five being the most challenging.

Luckily, you don't have to play every level if you don't want to, as the purpose of levels is to get Wonder Seeds, which open paths leading forward, so once you have enough Wonder Seeds to progress you don't have to play the remaining levels if you don't want to. This means casual players absolutely have the option of leaving some levels for later if they can't beat them, and more advanced players have a significant challenge throughout the whole game.

If you're still finding levels too challenging, you can even switch to one of the "easy" characters, several Yoshi variants and Nabbit, characters who don't take damage meaning the only thing that could kill you is dropping down a hole or getting crushed by something.

Alternatively, you bolster your abilities with the new power-ups, as well as the brand-new Badges.

I'll start with power-ups, as there aren't too many. There are the returning classics, the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Power Star. These make your character bigger, let you shoot fireballs or make you temporarily invincible respectively.

Joining them are three new abilities. First is the most bizarre one, Elephant Fruit, which turns your character into a super-powerful elephant that can smack things with its trunk, absorb and shoot water, and keep us up at night trying to work out what their hands look like under those gloves.

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Then there's the Bubble Flower, which shoots bubbles to take out enemies, and even give yourself something to bounce when you jump on it.

Finally, there's the Drill Mushroom, which lets your character burrow underground (or in the sealing) to access new areas or strike enemies from below.

Some Wonder Flowers also sort of count as power-ups, as occasionally they'll turn you into something rather than change up the level, like a Goomba!

Then you've got the Badges, unlocked by playing Badge Challenges where you must use and master a new power to complete a level. There are a lot of these, all of which have their own uses and drawbacks depending on the level.

There's one that lets you use your cap to glide for a short time, one that places "!" Blocks in tricky parts of a level, one that lets you dash forward underwater, and many many more.

You can only equip one Badge at a time, and you can swap them out either prior to starting a level, or when you're loading back into one after restarting/dying.

I loved all the power-ups and Badges and thoroughly enjoyed testing out their usefulness from level to level. Some levels were obviously more accommodating to certain powers/badges than others, but for the most part, you're more than welcome to experiment and try your own strategies.

The last thing I'll touch on is the multiplayer, as I absolutely loved it. I played two-player with my non-gamer partner and we had an absolute blast, and it never felt like our varying skill levels were holding us back from the goal. If you die while your co-op buddy lives, you'll turn into a ghost and have to float back to a friend before a timer runs out. If you can touch them, you'll pop right back into existence without losing a life and can continue on your merry way.

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While I didn’t play with anyone online, I did enable the online functionality, which shows other players on the same level as you, who can also save you/be saved upon death. There are a handful of emoticons you can use to communicate, and while they’re limited to smiley faces, question marks etc, they did a pretty good job of getting messages across. A perfect example is one level that required you to travel upward while collecting five flowers. Collecting all five completes the level, but in order to get them and work your way up you need to find several invisible blocks. There were a few cases where it seemed like we’d reached a dead end, prompting all of us to spam the question mark emote before one of us finally figured out where the last block was, which we celebrated by spamming smiley faces.

Another aspect of the multiplayer are the standees, colourful cutouts of whatever character you’re currently playing as. These act as a safe point for ghost players, allowing them to return to the land of the living without having to find another player first. You could place these anywhere, so I’d always put one next to a tricky part of the level in case someone was struggling. There are several standees to collect, all of which can be bought from the in-game shop, and I ended up becoming quite obsessed with collecting them all.

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I honestly loved the multiplayer part of the game. Even if I wasn’t playing with an actual friend I’d still leave the multiplayer setting switched on, just so I could see other players doing the same levels I was. Even though we were all in separate games, it still felt like we were on the same adventure, and it was also reassuring to see so many players die at the same points I was.

Overall, I was blown away by Super Mario Bros. Wonder, so much so that I actually struggled to pull myself away from it to write this review. Nintendo has somehow managed to keep the essence of 2D Mario intact, whilst reinvigorating it with plain, stupid fun that’s enjoyable to any and all players, regardless of skill level or whether they’ve played a Mario game before.

Instead of blindly sprinting your way through bland, uninspired level designs like in the New Super Mario Bros. games, Super Mario Bros. Wonder gives you cause to stop and appreciate the weird and wonderful world of gaming’s most iconic character and have endless amounts of fun in the process.

Pros: Breathes new life into 2D Mario games, super stylish sound and visuals, endless replayability, varying levels of challenge for casual and experienced players

Cons: Some levels could be way too challenging for casual players

For fans of: Couch co-op games, Super Mario Bros.

10/10: Perfect

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is out now for Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Mario, Super Mario, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch